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Elite Iraqi troops storm governor's office in Diyala

THE WORLD

August 20, 2008|Ned Parker and Usama Redha | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — Predawn raids by elite Iraqi forces Tuesday resulted in the fatal shooting of a government employee and the arrest of two prominent Sunni Arab Muslims, witnesses and officials said.

The troops were with the central government's counter-terrorism units, said Gov. Raad Tamimi of Diyala province, where the raid took place. The forces stormed the governorate building in the city of Baqubah and arrested Sunni provincial council member Hussein Zubaidi, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Another raid led to the arrest of a prominent Sunni university dean.

Questions swirled around who deployed the troops. The special forces unit, referred to by detractors as the dirty squad, reports to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's counter-terrorism office. Spokesmen for Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, and the Defense Ministry said the prime minister had not ordered the raids.

"These special forces work with the Americans. They are not associated with the Ministry of Defense," ministry spokesman Mohammed Askari said. "They have goals, and they didn't inform anyone else."

The unit, long considered Iraq's most effective, generally operates with U.S. military advisors and has been sent on missions targeting the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq as well as the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia.

The U.S. military denied involvement in the operation.

The special forces transferred to Iraqi control in 2007 after working for years with near-independence under the guidance of the Americans. Last spring, the group's commander, Fadil Barwari, an ethnic Kurd, was brought before parliament's national security committee, where members complained about the group's rough tactics, several lawmakers have told The Times.

The head of Iraq's national media center, Ali Hadi, denied that Maliki ordered the raid and said the prime minister had called for an investigation.

Witnesses said that more than 50 soldiers stormed the compound and rousted council members from their beds. The troops roughed up people, they said, and the governor said they fatally shot his secretary, Abbas Ali Hamood.

Hamood had asked the soldiers to identify themselves and to behave, and they opened fire on him, said a building security officer who identified himself as Capt. Saad.

Fighting broke out between police officers and soldiers and continued until police were told to halt their fire, security officials said. At least two civilians and four police officers were wounded, they said.

Separately, special forces launched an assault on the house of the dean of Diyala University, Nazar Jabbar Khafaji, and led him away, said his driver, Ismael Ibrahim. The soldiers confiscated computers, two guns and $5,000, he said.

The surprise raid on the Baqubah governorate building came amid an Iraqi security crackdown in Diyala province that has targeted Al Qaeda in Iraq. The region, with its mosaic of Kurds and Shiite and Sunni Arabs, continues to be one of the more volatile in Iraq. It is strategically important because it borders Baghdad.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni bloc in parliament, condemned the raid and demanded to know who ordered the arrests.

"Some said they are connected with the prime minister. . . . Others said they are connected with higher authorities," said the bloc's spokesman, Selim Abdullah.

In southern Iraq Tuesday, a rocket attack killed a U.S. soldier in Amarah, where Iraqi troops were waging a campaign.

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ned.parker@latimes.com

Times staff writer Saif Hameed and a correspondent in Diyala contributed to this report.

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